So often while driving home from work we switch on the radio to listen to the traffic report, planning our journey home around traffic build up caused by serious accidents on the roads. Maybe it’s a three-car pile-up on the freeway, or a pedestrian has been hit whilst crossing an intersection, when we hear the news our first thought is often “the trip home is going to take longer tonight”. But how often do you spare a thought for the people involved in the accident? Who are they? How will their lives change as a result of this day? What is life like for them and their families post-accident?
Social workers at each point in the continuum of care following a traumatic incident are in a unique position to learn about the catastrophic ripple effect that these events can have on people’s lives, and the lives of people close to them. Social workers in acute hospital care support families during the time of shock, disbelief and high emotional stress. Social workers in rehabilitation services support people to adjust to a new life, one that may require them to adapt to living with a disability, and they support family members as they transition into the new role of carer. Beyond the hospital system, social workers in counselling services assist people to cope emotionally with their traumatic memories of the event and the flow on impacts on their families, relationships and all aspects of their lives.
As a social worker in a law firm, my role is to support people who are going through the legal system. Along with those who’ve been involved in motor vehicle accidents, I speak to people who have had injuries at work, others who have contracted Mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure, and some who have had an unexpected and catastrophic outcome from medical care.
People turn to the law for a range of reasons, to pay for care they may need as a result of their injury; to seek justice for what has happened to them; or to find acknowledgement for their suffering, but a legal remedy is often only one part of their healing journey. My clients have often had their worlds turned upside down through an accident, injury or illness and my role is to understand the impact that these events have had on their lives to best assist them. Emotional distress, financial difficulty, and difficulties managing at home and in the community are a common result of the trauma they have faced. In turn, these issues and the pressures it places on families can have an enormous impact on relationships.
Loss is the issue that transcends through all of our clients’ lives, and the lives of those closest to them. For many, this extends far beyond financial losses to include things like losing the ability to do many of the things that once brought them joy, which often brings increased social isolation and emotional distress. They may struggle to do many of the activities we take for granted at home, and these tasks can then fall to others in the family or household. After an injury or illness many people may lose their ability to work and may have limited mobility. This can impact friendships and their ability to socialise, making their world become much narrower, spending most of their time at home and dependent on their partner to provide them with care. At times, this drastic shift in family dynamics and roles within the family can lead to family breakdown because relationships that were once mutual and reciprocal can sometimes become dependent and strained.
The Social Work Service at Slater and Gordon aims to support people and their families who are in the midst of this loss. We aim to begin by connecting people with counselling, support and connection to their community. We encourage people to take small steps as they work to rebuild their lives. We are often struck by the resilience of our clients and their families. The way they’re able to work through so many of the obstacles they face and adjust to their ‘new normal’. Whilst strain is often felt on family relationships, many not only survive but thrive as they grow closer and bond through adversity. Each day there are many Australians who are navigating this challenging path, for some, their lives may never be the same. Adjustment, and the creation of a new life, is often best tackled with support. Social Workers, Psychologists, GPs, Community Services, and a range of other supports can be accessed to take these steps alongside both the individual and their family members. Reaching out is often the first step.
If you need support, you can contact:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
The contents of this blog post are considered accurate as at the date of publication. However the applicable laws may be subject to change, thereby affecting the accuracy of the article. The information contained in this blog post is of a general nature only and is not specific to anyone’s personal circumstances. Please seek legal advice before acting on any of the information contained in this post.